And her breasts are lifted high

19 06 2013

Not to get all TMI on y’all, but this will never be an issue for me.

*Sigh*





Hang the rich

17 06 2013

Economists should just butt the fuck out of politics. Jesus.

I know, I know: As a good social scientist I’m supposed to say nice things about econometrics and all of the EXCITING! PROVOCATIVE! insights they have to offer the study of politics, but, y’know, I’m not a particularly good social scientist so why not go with that?

Er. . . anyway. Gregory Mankiw, late of the Bush administration, has made publicly and freely available (good for him) a paper entitled ‘Defending the One Percent‘.

Yeah, I know. Still, inequality is a political issue and as such, may be debated on all sides. After a brief (worthless) fable about perfect equality and iPods and Harry Potter, Mankiw goes on to note that his following discussion of inequality is inescapably political:

At the outset, it is worth noting that addressing the issue of rising inequality necessarily involves not just economics but also a healthy dose of political philosophy. We economists must recognize not only the limits of what we know about inequality’s causes, but also the limits on the ability of our discipline to prescribe policy responses. Economists who discuss policy responses to increasing inequality are often playing the role of amateur political philosopher (and, admittedly, I will do so in this essay). Given the topic, that is perhaps inevitable. But it is useful to keep in mind when we are writing as economists and when we are venturing beyond the boundaries of our professional expertise. (pp. 2-3)

Yes, yes you should, Professor Mankiw. And yet you went ahead anyway.

So onward he goes, into familiar tales about efficiency and utility and disutility and productivity and consumption, and, unfortunately, into the increasingly-familiar tales about genetics and intelligence (and productivity, natch) and then, oops, he gets confused and in the end says it doesn’t much matter after all, so, okay.

And then we get the charming personal anecdote:

By contrast, the educational and career opportunities available to children of the top 1 percent are, I believe, not very different from those available to the middle class. My view here is shaped by personal experience. I was raised in a middle-class family; neither of my parents were college graduates. My own children are being raised by parents with both more money and more education. Yet I do not see my children as having significantly better opportunities than I had at their age. (pp. 8-9)

Yes, because everything was great back then and is exactly the same now.

Then Okun and Mirrlees and utilitarianism, a feint toward neuroscience, a jab at redistributionists (‘if you’re not willing to do it globally, you shouldn’t do it nationally’), and then a discussion of the role of factors such as height in compensation—tall folks earn more—but that totally doesn’t mean anything ha ha forget it.

Then he gets into the left critique of inequality. After noting that, “It is, I believe, hard to square the rhetoric of the left with the economist’s standard framework”, he suggests that

Someone favoring greater redistribution along the lines of Okun and Mirrlees would argue as follows. “The rich earn higher incomes because they contribute more to society than others do. However, because of diminishing marginal utility, they don’t get much value from their last few dollars of consumption. So we should take some of their income away and give it to less productive members of society. While this policy would cause the most productive members to work less, shrinking the size of the economic pie, that is a cost we should bear, to some degree, to increase utility for society’s less productive citizens.” (p. 15)

Mankiw then admits this would “surely not animate the Occupy crowd!”  But instead of dealing with the political arguments of ‘the Occupy crowd’, he detours into tax policy.

Now, tax policy is clearly political, and it clearly has economic effects, so you might think I should cut Mankiw a break and say, Hey, this is an area in which his economic expertise is relevant.

I will not so cut, because by detouring into tax policy he is eliding the central political claims of said Occupy crowd and sundry other leftists. They—we—are less concerned with tax policy per se than with basic claims of fairness and representation. Economics in general and tax experts in particular can offer useful models and information about how best to achieve this or that goal of fairness (not so much about representation), but in terms of adjudicating fairness itself, that is a political matter.

(n.b. I’m all hepped up on this stuff because I’ve been teaching Bernard Crick’s In Defence of Politics, wherein he notes, among other things, that treating citizens as if they were simply so many productive cogs in a socioeconomic machine is to erase politics altogether. Which is bad. Very bad.)

Where was I? Oh, yeah, another personal observation from Mankiw:

The key issue is the extent to which the high incomes of the top 1 percent reflect high productivity rather than some market imperfection. This question is one of positive economics, but unfortunately not one that is easily answered. My own reading of the evidence is that most of the very wealthy get that way by making substantial economic contributions, not by gaming the system or taking advantage of some market failure or the political process. (p. 17)

Uh huh, well that settles it then.

Then on to President Obama’s you-didn’t-make-it-on-your-own claim—again, one which could be taken as an economic claim but which, in context, is clearly political—and we’re off to a discussion on infrastructure and margins and transfer payments and ta da:

In the end, the left’s arguments for increased redistribution are valid in principle but dubious in practice. (p. 19)

Now, sorry for shouting, but: THIS IS A POLITICAL ARGUMENT MASQUERADING AS AN ECONOMIC ONE.

I happen not to groove to this particular political argument, but I accept that it is a political argument and thus may claim a role in the political arena. What I do not accept is that this is some kind of neutral economic argument which by nature of it neutral economic-ness ought trump in the political arena.

I’m going to spare all of us his discussion of the veil of ignorance and a market in kidneys (Christ!) and his notion of ‘just desserts’ fiscal policy (another political argument) to get to this beaut:

My disagreement with the left lies not in the nature of their arguments, but rather in the factual basis of their conclusions. (p. 21)

Well, I guess the first part of that statement is true, insofar as he didn’t truly engage those arguments.

And then he comes to a conclusion with which (cue angelic music) I can agree:

Economists can turn to empirical methods to estimate key parameters, but no amount of applied econometrics can bridge this philosophical divide. (p. 22)

That’s called politics, baby, and no amount of econometric hand-waving can wave away those basic disputes about fairness, representation, and the purpose and worth of government.

Economics has its place, even in politics, but it is no substitute for politics: If you want to make a political argument, then make the political argument, and don’t pretend otherwise.

h/t Mark Gongloff, HuffPo





Here comes the rain again

15 06 2013

Such a rainy June—marvelous!

Yesterday after the rain as I rode through Prospect Park, the wind scattering the wet from the leaves above, mist rising from the roadway, all of the green laying back in deep contentment, and I thought, Oh, this is lovely!

If only Seattle weather were to settle permanently in New York. . . !

Too much to ask for, I know.





Take it easy

14 06 2013

Another dream about Madison.

It was so vivid, but, of course, it’s now all faded. I was in Madison, with T., in the Union (which, of course, was nothing like the actual Union) and near Lake Mendotat (which, of course, was nothing like the actual Lake Mendota: in my Madison dreams the shoreline is a coastline and lake scallops are oceanic waves), and when I awoke, I was so sad that I wasn’t living there.

Living in that dream-Madison would be so easy; I missed the chance of that Madison-dream.

Of course, that’s just what it was: a dream. Madison is a lovely town (when Scott Walker ain’t around, but it’s no longer for me. I may visit it again on my next sojourn to Wisconsin, and I set a part of my second novel in Madison, but as a real place, it’s not mine.

Part of this is my sense that to live there would be to ‘go backwards’, but more than that, I would always be looking for something beyond what Madison could offer.

This is not a knock on the joint: I’m restless, full stop, and thus unable to indulge he pleasures of staying put.

Then there is the fact that I am made uneasy by ease. Even assuming an identical level of financial uncertainty there as I have here, life in Madison would be easier in every way. You know those t.v. shows or books wherein newcomers are able to find a rich & quirky community life, with beloved hangouts and folks willing to tell-you-what? That would be possible in Madison.

Which is why I can never live there.

Okay, I could live there for a time—for a semester, maybe—but the idea that I would land there and stay there and stay there and there. . . no ma’am.

I’d wonder what I was missing, not just in the what’s-going-on-elsewhere way, but in the sense that ‘this is too easy: what’s the catch’? I always think there’s a catch.

I’m too skeptical, even suspicious, to live easy. This is not a wholly bad thing—looking for something more has its own rewards—but I miss out on the pleasures, and, perhaps, sorrows, of letting it be.

There is a whole other life which is beyond me, a something more available only to those who aren’t searching for that something more.





And they were turning into butterflies

11 06 2013

1. Politics is anti-utopian; utopia is anti-politics.

We spent this evening’s class going over Bernard Crick’s “A defence of politics against technology” and talking about scientism and technocracy and George Packer’s May 27th New Yorker piece on Silicon Valley and the dream of the frictionless and I, as ever, joined Crick in defending politics against against the plans of the smooth and predictable, against that frictionless dream of techno-utopia.

What would we do, a student asked? I noted we should be so lucky to have such problems as utopia, then shrugged and quoted David Byrne that Heaven is a place. . . where nothing ever happens and let it hang as we packed to leave.

I am political, not utopian.

2. Dreams of utopia are lovely and heartbreaking in ways dreams of politics never will be.

Once home I listened to Jian Ghomeshi’s wonderfully strange and spiky interview with the wonderfully strange and spiky Joni Mitchell as I played spider solitaire on my computer. In the intro to the segment on Mitchell’s recollection of missing Woodstuck, Ghomeshi played her slow, thoughtful lament on what might have been.

And sitting here alone I paused in my solitaire as my throat closed and eyes teared as she sidled her way through the opening lyrics.

What was that? Why did this happen? How could that song do that to me?

Mitchell noted that had she actually gone to Woodstock she couldn’t have written the song, that the bullshit and backbiting of what really was would have torn up an undreamt garden.

I am anti-utopian because utopias are not possible; if I thought they were possible, would I be utopian? Could we really have a dreamt-of garden?

. . . and thus the lovely heartbreak.





Can you hear me calling you?

11 06 2013

Howza ’bout a quickie?

Personal experiences, privacy, disclosure, spying, blah blah: When I was in college I worked for The Daily Cardinal, the radical campus newspaper.

The editorial editor was always a Marxist (almost always of the Trotskyite persuasion, although the brilliant and scary Karen once referred to her “Stalinist friends”), and the former editor (who the staff loved when he was editorial editor and hated as editor-editor) was prosecuted and imprisoned for failing to register for the draft. Oh, and one of the bombers of Sterling Hall (mentioned a few posts back) had worked at the Cardinal before heading underground.

So: It was not inconceivable that mere association with the Cardinal was enough to land someone on a a government list somewhere.

I never worried too much about it, even though I was quite active politically (anti-nukes, anti-apartheid, US-out-of-Central-America, etc.): I just didn’t rate. I joked that if the FBI did have a file on me, then they were wasting their damn time.

This, then, is the flipside to my flipping out about privacy: I don’t rate, so if the NSA is scooping up information on me, they’re wasting their damn time.

I’m all over the place on this NSA thing. I hated and hate the PATRIOT Act, and think any scandal over snooping is due to the fact that it’s policy, that it’s been stamped RIGHT ON! by Congress and the courts. I get why journalists and pundits (and I) are banging on about this—journalists and pundits (and I) like disclosure of governmental activity—but I’m more flabbergasted by the flabbergast of those journalists and pundits than I am by this particular bit of governmental activity.

I mean, what the hell did these people think we were getting with the PATRIOT Act and FISA and deferential courts?

And there ain’t no surprise about Obama, either: He made clear when he was running the first time that he was going to hit the national security thing hard, differentiating himself from Bush in seeking to legalize data seeking.

Any scandal is that this is all SOP, and insofar as the majority of those polled seem just fine with it all, t’ain’t no scandal at all.

I may be in the minority on this—I hate the info dragnet—but I also understand the general shrug on this: most folks just don’t see or feel any effects from this. And hell, back in the day when I might have had some, small, reason to think there might be eyes on the crowd I ran with, even then I noticed no effects.

Damn, this is getting too long: lemme truncate it. One,  I’ve long assumed any electronic transaction was not confined to private wires, so the latest bit is less revelation than confirmation. Two, in sucking up every last bit of info about every last person, I find a kind of safety in numbers—I and tens of millions of my fellow Americans (and hundreds of millions of my fellow Earthlings) don’t rate. Three (and this requires an argument I’m not going to give, because already tl;dr), I’m more worried about corporate than govt info-hauls precisely because I think corporations are more likely to use the info than is the govt.

Finally, what matters more than the info-haul is the mindset behind the info-haul but I am not going to get into it tonight because this post is not the 3-or-4 grafs I was thinking it was going to be and it’s time to go to bed.

So, whomsoever may be reading this (wink, wink): nighty-night!





The rest is silence

9 06 2013

Say nothing.

I am, as you may have guessed, a talker, someone who always has something to say and almost always knows how to say it. I can be quite obnoxious—always something to say—but also useful in social situations. And as a professor who glances at rather than reads her notes, the ability to float words into air comes in handy.

Like a lot of talkers, I can be unnerved by spaces without sounds. I almost always have the radio on, and in class I’ve had to force myself after tossing out a question to wait one, two, three or more beats for a student to grab it, rather than reeling it back in immediately. I’m a pushy broad who has to restrain herself not always to push so hard, to give time to the laconic to make themselves heard.

Yet whether despite or because of that need for words, I know the force of silence.

When I was an undergrad I went into therapy, briefly, with a psych resident, J. She was. . . fine, I guess, but I was pissed off and messed up and deeply, deeply ambivalent about therapy. I was abashed at my need to talk to someone, so—I could see this only in hindsight—cast about for any reason not to talk.

J. gave me that reason.

Not on purpose, of course. It’s just that she had this rule that she would follow no matter what: the client had to start the conversation. Well.

The first coupla’ sessions I’d wait a bit, and then start in. J. would follow up, but too often in that Interviewing-101 kind of way.

Me: I’m just, I’m always worried what people are thinking of me, like I’m doing something wrong.

J: So you’re feeling kind of judged, huh?

(I don’t know if that’s exactly what I said, but I do remember, for whatever memory is worth, her saying that exact phrase back to me.)

It got worse from there. There was a large plant next to the loveseat on which I sat, and while I could see J. concentrating the hell on me as she shifted from one attentive position to another in her office chair, I’d  lean back, finger the leaves of that plant. And say nothing. Five minutes. Ten minutes. By our later sessions, I was silent for 20, maybe even 30 minutes.

Did I mention that, because she was a resident under supervision, all of our sessions were taped?

I was an asshole, and while some of the jerk things I did while I was messed up were due to my being messed up, this wasn’t one of them. I knew I was being an asshole, knew that she’d have to go back to her supervisor with that half-blank tape—knew that by not talking I had power over her—and I enjoyed it. You gotta rule about who talks first? Yeah, well, here’s what you can do with that rule!

I did, finally, put an end to it all. I don’t remember if I thought, Okay, quit being a jerk or This ain’t working or some other mashup of decency and practicality, but I knew that this particular therapeutic relationship was stillborn.

The ambivalence over therapy remained, even throughout two good, if difficult, therapeutic relationships (as well as a number of abortive ones), but in those good relationships I tried not to be an asshole, tried (not always successfully) not to use silence as a weapon. I did more often use it as a shield, but in a decent therapeutic relationship you learn—well, I learned—that the person sitting attentively a few feet away from you might just want to help, and that the best way for that attentively-sitting person to help is to tell her how you need help.

And thus the ambivalence, all the way through: The need beyond desire to tell, and not tell, on myself. Was it revelation or betrayal? The urgency of that question faded, but never entirely went away.

All of this is a verrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrry long prelude to my own disquiet with the social admonition to reveal oneself. Now that I’m no longer so neurotic that I worry much about what people think of me—mainly because I folks have better things to do than think of me—I wonder about the social pressure to display oneself, be it on Facebook or Foursquare or whatever. If you don’t know me, what should it matter that I’m not visible to you? (And if you do know me, well, there are other ways to get in contact with me.)

Most folks I know who are on Facebook like it because it’s a great way to connect with or keep up on friends, and thus don’t really get my unease with the platform. It’s just a. . . thing, nothing more.

I don’t see it that way, of course. Yes, on one level it is just a thing, just a handy tool to stay on top of relationships, but on other levels it’s a signal of your interest in others, a scripted performance of oneself, a marker of one’s willingness to go along with social expectations, and, of course, a vast database for a corporation to mine for profit. To choose not to participate is to set oneself apart as an object of suspicion.

Think that’s too much? I don’t want to hang too much on example, but. . . I’m going to hang a lot on this interchange between Farhad Manjoo & Emily Yoffe on Slate:

Farhad: . . .That question came up in the context of a debate about online dating. I said that if you’re going to set up a date with someone and you can’t find anything about them on Facebook… I’d extend that to other social networks. If you can’t find a photo of them and there’s no photo on the dating site either, then you should be suspicious. That person seems to be trying to hide something.

Emily: We’re all trying to hide something, Farhad.

Farhad: Well, the person might be married or have a girlfriend, or in some ways trying to hide their activities. I don’t think it’s a slam-dunk case. I don’t think that’s necessarily the situation, but I would be a little bit suspicious.

But to the letter writer’s question beyond dating, I think that it’s better to have a social networking profile for a couple reasons. You are taking control of your online life then.

[. . .]

And if you don’t have [an online presence], I think people will judge you based on that. . . .

I’ve looked at the numbers for Facebook. If you look at the demographics, it’s not like only young people have Facebook. It pretty much cuts across most demographic lines, and from what I can tell, also socioeconomic lines. They have a billion people around the world. Lots of people are on Facebook and I think you’re kind of judged now, for better or worse, if you don’t. [emph added]

Manjoo is a tech fanboy who is puzzled by any criticism of tech which is not about glitches or efficiency—he does not get the concept of social-techno-coercion—and thus ought not be considered a general representative of all social media users.

But he ain’t alone, either. Consider Senator Lindsay Graham’s response to concerns about the NSA’s vacuum-cleaner approach to electronic information: “I don’t have anything to worry about because I’m not talking to terrorists.”

And there it is: If you have nothing to hide, you shouldn’t be afraid to show—with the barely concealed implication, If you don’t show, you must have something to hide.

Do I have something to hide? Like Emily Yoffe, I’m of the belief that “We’re all trying to hide something”, that it’s normal to keep a few things to oneself and not something which has to be justified.

It’s also normal to want to share oneself, not to hide away everything. Even as I’m a non-Facebooker, I am a blogger, and I call and text friends and colleagues and regularly go out in public. I’m a private person in society, someone who believes one ought to be able to be both private and social as she sees fit.

 

To bring this back around, not all or even most of my political beliefs can be traced in any direct way to my personal experiences, but my views on privacy and sociality are most definitely jacked into something deep inside of me. Even as I write that “I’m a private person in society” I fret over the tension contained within that assertion, wonder if it is possible to be both without betraying either the private or social side of me.

In the end, I think I ought to be the one who decides whether to speak, or not. More than that, the conditions under which I choose to speak ought not unduly pressure me one way or the other. I get that there will always be some pressure, but there should be freedom, too.

And if not, well, I like to talk, but if you tell me I have to talk, I’ll enjoy your frustration as I lean back, and say nothing.